No return of crowds at British racecourses until mid-May at earliest

Mon 22 Feb 2021

The British Horseracing Authority says it will "engage with Government" over allowing owners to return to racecourses as soon as possible, after it was confirmed by the Prime Minister on Monday that no crowds will be permitted at sporting venues until mid-May at the earliest.

While schools are set to return on March 8 and grassroots sport will be reinstated not before March 29, along with larger groups being allowed to gather in parks and gardens, the Prime Minster is planning to allow limited crowds back to sports venues only from May 17 at the earliest.

Indoor events will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 1,000, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events this will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lower.

The road map includes special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower.

Pilots will also run to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing, using other mitigations such as testing, the Government said.

Non-essential retail will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest, meaning betting shops will remain closed for both the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree - two of the biggest betting events of the year.

In response, a statement from the British Horseracing Authority said: "On behalf of British racing and all those who work in our industry, we very much welcome the government’s announcement today of a roadmap for the removal of the current COVID restrictions.

"The whole sport has worked hard to abide by our race-day protocols to allow racing to continue behind closed doors and support the many livelihoods that depend on our industry. British racing’s classification as an elite sport made this possible. But we do miss owners and we do miss spectators whose presence at meetings contributes so much to the thrill of our sport.

"We have already introduced additional measures to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus and have further options under consideration. We will now engage with government to highlight our ability to move beyond the current limitation on essential staff only as soon as that is possible and allow the return of owners.

"Racing continues to benefit from the incredible loyalty shown by owners. We will clarify as soon as possible when they can return to race-meetings, and when amateurs can resume riding.

"The government has also published details today on the potential timings for the return of spectators to elite sport. We have further discussions with officials scheduled which will enable us to draw up specific proposals for race meetings, including potential pilot events. We also expect to hear further details of the plans for Scotland and Wales which are not covered by today’s announcement.

"Whilst the publication of dates is a very positive sign, the absence of spectators from our big events is continuing to put a strain on racing’s revenues. This has been exacerbated by the closure of betting shops. Our financial discussions with government are ongoing."

The Government's plan sets out the lifting of restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step.

The Prime Minister announced there will be a minimum five-week gap between each step - and easing of restrictions will happen on a nationwide, rather than regional, basis.

Racing returned behind closed doors last June following the first lockdown.

Racegoers were permitted for trial events at Warwick and Doncaster last September, although the planned four-day pilot on Town Moor was cut to just one day on the instruction of the local authority.

Limited crowds were then permitted under the local tiers system in December, with Cheltenham hosting up to 2,000 spectators at its December meeting and both Sandown and Aintree welcoming racegoers at feature fixtures that month.

However, under current lockdown measures, no racegoers or owners are allowed - with the on-track presence limited to only essential personnel.

Pilot events for the return of spectators are expected to begin as part of the Government's Event Research Programme from April.

These will use "enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes".

Findings from pilots across the sport and cultural sectors will be brought together to develop a "consistent approach" to removing capacity limits as part of step four - which would start no earlier than June 21.

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